India – Maldives Relations: Because of its location in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is strategically important for India under the Modi government’s “Neighbourhood First” strategy. However, relations between the two countries were strained during former President Abdulla Yameen’s pro-China rule.

This is apparent in Abdulla Yameen’s recent “India Out” campaign against India’s enormous development investment for physical, social, and community facilities, as well as incumbent President Solih’s government’s retention of two India-gifted helicopters and their operating military troops.

While India-Maldives relations have always been strong, friendly, and multi-faceted, the Maldives’ recent regime instability has posed significant constraints, particularly in the political and strategic arena. As a result, the fundamental task for India’s diplomacy is to reconcile all of these inconsistencies into harmonious relationships.

Latest information on Maldives-India Relations:

  • The following are the most recent MoUs signed between the two countries:
    • Two Memorandums of Understanding have been signed for high-impact community development projects.
    • Maldives and India have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on sports and youth affairs cooperation.
    • One MoU has been inked for a grant of 100 million dollars as part of India’s 500 million dollar GMCP package. India has pledged a $500 million package to assist the Maldives in dealing with the economic slump caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Air, sea, intra-island, and telecommunications are all included in the package.
  • A number of bilateral visits have taken place between the Maldives and India:
    • In February 2020, the Home Ministers of both countries met for a discussion on security and law enforcement cooperation.
    • In 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the Maldives to witness Mohamed Solih, the newly elected President of the Maldives, take the oath of office.
    • President Solih of the Maldives visited India in 2018 and reaffirmed the Maldives’ India-first policy.

Maldives’ Geostrategic Importance to India

India - Maldives Relations

Despite having the lowest land area of any Asian country, the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically separated countries, straddling a 960-kilometer-long undersea ridge that runs north to south and forms a wall in the centre of the Indian Ocean. The Maldives’ geostrategic importance is defined by its strategic location, which is represented in the following:

  • The Maldives, a Toll Gate in the Indian Ocean: The two major maritime lanes of communication are located at the southern and northern ends of this island group (SLOCs). 
    • These SLOCs are crucial for maritime trade between West Asia’s Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz and Southeast Asia’s Strait of Malacca.
    • While the Indian Ocean is regarded as a major thoroughfare for global trade and energy flow, the Maldives serves as a toll gate.
    • While SLOCs near the Maldives have greater strategic relevance for global maritime trade, they are critical for India because approximately half of India’s external commerce and 80% of its energy imports pass through these westward SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
  • Increasing Marine Activity: As the Indian Ocean’s maritime economic activity has increased considerably in recent decades, so has the Indian Ocean’s geopolitical struggle.
    • As a result, China’s geopolitical interests and logistical constraints in the Indian Ocean have encouraged it to expand its presence.
  • India’s Strategic Priority: The achievement of India’s Strategic Priority requires a favorable and positive maritime environment in the Indian Ocean.
    • As a result, India strives to maintain an ever-expanding zone of peace and stability around itself.
    • In addition, the Maldives is a significant partner in India’s role as the region’s net security supplier.

Cooperation Between India – Maldives Relations

1. Political ties between India and the Maldives

  • Regular contacts at the highest levels have nurtured and enhanced bilateral relations. Almost every Indian Prime Minister has visited the Maldives since diplomatic relations were established. Former President Gayoom visited India on several occasions. In December 2008, President Mohamed Nasheed traveled to India for the first time since taking office. President Nasheed spoke at the Delhi High-Level Conference on Climate Change and Technology Transfer in October 2009.
  • President Nasheed visited India twice in 2010, the first in January for the CII-Partnership Summit in Chennai and the second in October for the 19th Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in New Delhi. In February of this year, President Nasheed paid an official visit to the country. In multilateral fora such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the NAM, and the SAARC, the Maldives has consistently supported India on international problems. The Maldives was one of the first countries to express support for Shri Kamalesh Sharma’s candidacy for Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. The Maldives also joined the G-4 in co-sponsoring draft resolutions on UN reforms.
India - Maldives Relations

2. Security Assistance

  • India has provided emergency help to the Maldives on numerous occasions over the years.
  • When armed mercenaries staged a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 1988, India dispatched paratroopers and Navy ships as part of Operation Cactus to restore the legitimate government.
  • In addition, cooperative naval drills have been held in the Indian Ocean, and India continues to contribute to the maritime island’s defence.

3. Bilateral Assistance

India has offered help to the Maldives in its development process whenever possible. The following are some of India’s biggest projects:

  • Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital: The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital is located in New Delhi, India (IGMH) It was agreed to build a medical complex in Male’ with Indian support during former Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Male’ in 1986. As a result, the 200-bed hospital was constructed at a cost of Rs.42.5 crores and opened in April 1995. IGMH, Male is presently the Maldives’ most sophisticated tertiary care hospital, and it is easily the most obvious sign of India’s aid to the country. Despite the fact that the Maldives government is now in charge of managing and maintaining the hospital, India continues to provide significant help to the institution.
  • Faculty of Engineering Technology (FET): In 1996, the Government of India established the Maldives Institute of Technical Education (MITE) as a grant-in-aid project. MITE, which can train at least 200 students each year in a variety of technical/vocational fields, was renamed Faculty of Engineering Technology (FET) to better reflect the academic programs it offers, and it is doing well.

4. Disaster-relief Assistance

  • Following the tsunami waves that struck the Maldives on December 26, 2004, India was the first country to respond with relief and aid. On the morning of December 27th, a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft arrived, followed by two Indian Air Force Avros carrying relief supplies on the same day. All of the planes remain in the Maldives to continue their relief efforts. On December 28, the INS Mysore arrived with relief supplies, a 20-bed hospital, and two helicopters. On December 29, she was joined by INS Udaygiri and INS Aditya. The ships were stationed in the Southern Atolls, which were the hardest hit.
  • The ships transported food and medicine, treated patients in a field hospital put up by their medics, repaired electricity generators and communication equipment, and evacuated patients using shipborne helicopters as necessary. India’s relief operations are expected to cost Rs. 36.39 crores in total. In 2005, the Indian government approved a budget support package of Rs.10 crores to the Maldives in response to President Gayoom’s request for financial assistance, citing the Maldives’ acute financial challenges as a result of the tsunami and other circumstances.

5. People To People Contact: 

  • Everyday interaction and exchanges have become easier thanks to technological advancements. Maldivian students attend Indian educational institutions, while patients go here for super-specialty healthcare, thanks to India’s flexible visa-free policy.

6. Military Assistance

  • In November 1988, speedboats carrying 80 armed militants from the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) landed in the Maldives at dawn, launching a coup d’état with the help of local defector supporters who had infiltrated the country. The scheme, which the Tamil nationalist organization prepared in Sri Lanka, was thought to be an attempt by a Maldivian businessman and politician opposed to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s dictatorship to acquire control while the PLOTE sought a haven and base for its actions. This coup, according to experts, was the result of spillover from Sri Lanka’s civil conflict.
  • The revolutionaries took possession of Malé Airport, the country’s capital, but were unable to apprehend President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had left with the help of his loyal soldiers. On November 3, after escaping, he requested military assistance from India. Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister at the time, replied by dispatching 1,600 troops to assist the Maldivian administration. Indian forces arrived within 12 hours of the request for aid being made, smashed the coup attempt, and took full control of the country within hours in a military operation codenamed “Operation Cactus.” One Indian soldier was wounded and 19 PLOTE insurgents were killed.

7. Economic Assistance

  • The Government of India offered a US$100 million Standby Credit Facility to the Maldives during President Nasheed’s visit to India in December 2008. During Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh’s November 2011 visit to the Maldives, a fresh US$ 100 million Standby Credit Facility was provided to the Maldives government.

Issues between India & Maldives relationship:

1. Political Instability:

  • The influence of political instability in the region on India’s security and prosperity has been a key source of concern for the country.
  • The detention of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges in February 2015, as well as the ensuing political upheaval, put India’s neighbourhood policy to the test.

2. Radicalization:

  • Over the last decade, the number of Maldivians drawn to terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based madrassas and jihadist organizations has risen.
  • The key reasons fueling the emergence of Islamist radicalism in the island nation are political instability and socio-economic uncertainty.
  • Radicalization in the Maldives has also been affected by events in West Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
  • This raises the prospect that terror groups based in Pakistan will use distant Maldivian islands as a launchpad for strikes against India and Indian interests.
  • Furthermore, India is concerned about how extreme Islamist forces have gained political clout in the region.

3. China’s Perspective:

  • The strategic footprint of China in India’s neighbourhood has grown. The Maldives has emerged as a key ‘pearl’ in China’s South Asian “String of Pearls” scheme.
  • Given the Maldives’ strategic location in the Indian Ocean, there have been rumors that China is attempting to establish strategic bases there.
  • China’s perspective strategic presence in the Maldives remains a source of concern, given the shaky dynamics of Sino-Indian relations.
  • In addition, the Maldives have begun to deal with India using the China card.

Conclusion of India – Maldives Relations

India remains a dedicated development partner for a stable, prosperous, and peaceful Maldives, in accordance with the government’s “Neighbourhood First” strategy. However, in order to maintain strategic comfort in relations, the Maldives should stick to its ‘India First’ strategy.


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